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Huge Copper Mine Idled By Strike

July 1, 1991

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ More than 7,000 workers walked off their jobs Monday at Chuquicamata, the huge open-pit copper mine, in a strike authorities say will cost Chile more than $3 million a day in lost income.

The strike became effective at the day’s first work shift Monday after after negotiators failed Sunday to reach an agreement.

Chuquicamata produces around 600,000 tons of copper a year.

Copper is Chile’s main export item, bringing in around 50 percent of the country’s total hard currency earnings. Chiquicamata’s sales alone account for about 13 percent of Chile’s total currency earnings.

Emergency shifts were assigned by union leaders to maintenance of some equipment and machinery and certain activities which cannot be stopped, but production was reported completely idled.

Union leaders and representatives for CODELCO, the state copper company, met at least twice Sunday at the mine 970 miles north of here, but no agreement was reached.

CODELCO negotiator Renzo Gasparini said ″some progress was made″ on the workers’ demands for a greater participation in the administration of the mine and some benefits.

Hernan Santelices, president of one of the two unions involved in the conflict, said differences remain on the main issues, including salaries.

There was no report on new talks scheduled between the company and the striking miners.

The mine’s 7,000 workers overwhelmingly voted the strike last Wednesday, after CODELCO rejected their request for an immediate 9.95 percent salary increase.

Instead, CODELCO offered raises every four months equal to the cost of living increase in that period.

The company had also offered a one-time bonus equivalent to $957 and an extension to 22 days from the present 18 days of the annual vacation period.

The government has not intervened in the conflict, saying the miners are ″excercizing a legal right that has been restored to them by this government.″

Strikes were prohibited in Chuquicamata under the former military regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, which ended in March last year.

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